Twenty-three candidates vied for two-year, nonpartisan seats on the Hawaii County Council in Saturday’s primary election.

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All nine districts had at least two candidates in the race except for District 7 where incumbent Rebecca Villegas ran unopposed. District 7 encompasses Central Kona and portions of South and North Kona.

Among the most watched races was District 9, which covers most of North and South Kohala, a fast-growing region that includes Waimea, Hawi, Kapaau, Waikoloa, Pauko, Kawaihae and beach resort communities.

Former state Rep. Cindy Evans was on track to win outright with 59.2% of the vote, according to results released early Sunday by the state Elections Office. Her main opponent was Jeff Coakley, a retired senior lifeguard from Kapaau. He trailed far behind Evans. The third candidate in the District 9 race was Chris Toafili, who took a sliver of the vote.

Karen Carvalho and her husband Edward Dickson voted in person on Saturday at Hilo's Aupuni Center. Photo: Tim Wright
Karen Carvalho and her husband Edward Dickson voted in person on Saturday at Hilo’s Aupuni Center. Tim Wright/Civil Beat/2022

Evans is a longtime politician who served in the Hawaii Legislature from 2002 to 2018, including a stint as House majority floor leader. She lost her House seat in the 2018 Democratic primary to Rep. David Tarnas.

“I’m really excited about representing this part of Hawaii island. Given my background as a state representative, I think I can bring a lot of experience and perspective to this job. We’re a rural part of the state and we have a lot of challenges,” Evans said Saturday evening.

Cindy Evans held a huge lead in her council race Saturday. Courtesy of Cindy Evans

She cited the island’s housing crisis and high cost of living as two of the top priorities she wants to tackle.

Coakley campaigned on a platform of being a community-minded problem solver and a fiscal conservative.

“I hate spending money, especially other people’s money,” he told Civil Beat on Friday.

The District 2 race was the most packed contest with a total of five candidates and no incumbent. District 2 includes Downtown Hilo, Bayfront, University Heights, Komohana Gardens, Lanakila, Mohouli, Ainako and other neighborhoods.

The race turned out extremely tight with just 39 votes separating Jennifer Kagiwada from retired firefighter Matthias Kusch, according to results released on Sunday morning. Timothy Wehrsig was far behind in third, followed by Maurice Goulding in fourth and William Halversen. Kagiwada and Kusch will advance to a runoff in the November general election.

Kagiwada works as a legislative assistant for council member Heather Kimball. For the past two years she has been learning about council proceedings, legislation and policy. Her priorities are fair taxes, affordable housing and child care, and other policies that affect children and families.

Jennifer Kagiwada 

“It looks like we’re headed for a runoff,” she said Saturday. “I’m excited to keep on campaigning. My values line up very well with the people of Hilo.”

Kusch ran on a platform of experience, saying in addition to his firefighting career, he has been building affordable rentals and starter homes, volunteering in schools, building multi-use trails and restoring fishponds in his spare time.

In a brief interview on Saturday night, Kusch said he hoped he would have garnered a clear win and has his work cut out for him. But given that he’s a first-time candidate, “I’m excited to be heading for the general election,” Kusch said.

Matthias Kusch 

He said he has “a lot of respect for Jen.” But what sets Kusch apart from his opponents, in his view, is the skillset he developed as a manager, decision-maker and problem-solver.

“They’re all good people. We all want the same thing but the difference is, I’ve been doing it for a couple of decades,” he said. “I’ve been putting people into affordable homes and rentals. I’ve been building infrastructure.”

The District 6 contest drew four candidates, also with no incumbent. The district covers portions of North and South Kona, Ka‘u, and the greater Volcano area.

Michelle Galimba, a rancher from Naaleu, was on track to win outright with 53.7% of the vote, well ahead of Colehour Bondera, Henry Cho and Shane Palacat-Nelsen.

Political newcomer Galimba said she jumped into the race because she wanted to help build a “more resilient and equitable island economy.”

“For a very long time, we have prioritized the growth of tourism and a few other sectors over the long-term needs of our communities, leading to an unbalanced economy” where it’s hard for “regular folks” to make a decent living, Galimba said.

Michelle Galimba 

As a woman who runs a 9,000-acre ranch with 3,000 head of cattle, Galimba said she’s well qualified to help the island move toward more self-sufficiency, including when it comes to food security.

Bondera is an organic Kona coffee farmer from Honaunau.

“Our homes should be relying on energy and food which comes from our island, not on imports,” Bondera said in a Civil Beat Q&A. “Food security and sovereignty is the most vital Hawaii County issue.”

In the District 1 race, incumbent Heather Kimball was also set to win outright with 65.3% of the vote, maintaining a strong lead over challenger Troy Martinez. District 1 covers South and North Hilo, Hamakua and portions of Waimea.

Susan Lee Loy was winning outright after capturing 63.4% of votes in District 3, which includes South Hilo and parts of Keaau. Her opponent was Darcy Alameda.

In District 4, incumbent Ashley Kierkiewicz was also winning outright with 72.5% of the vote over challenger Gregory Lum Ho. The district spans eastern Puna.

In District 5, western Puna, incumbent Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder was set to win another term with 73% of the vote against opponent Desmon Haumea.

And in District 8, results as of late Saturday show incumbent Holeka Goro Inaba winning outright with 61% of the vote over Lee-Ann Heely to represent North Kona.

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